What children can teach us about asking questions
On average, how many questions do you ask in a day? One, every 2,5 minutes? Probably not. You would end up questioning at least 300 things a day. Who has time for that!
Children do, apparently. A child asks, on average, about 300 questions each day. Just think about having to answer every single one of those…
Children are masters of asking questions. Growing up, most people ask fewer and fewer questions. We lose our knack for it. A shame, as the skill of asking the right questions is invaluable in any innovation process.
Where have they gone, those 300 questions a day?
Children are naturally curious. “What are we eating tonight?”, “Why is the sky blue?”, “Can birds cry?” No question is too crazy (and I have to admit, I’m very curious about the answer to that last one too). Kids want to know everything. They don’t ask questions to annoy us, but to better understand the world around them. For a small child, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Adults, however, are often too embarrassed to ask a question. Besides, there often isn’t enough time for questions. Much of what we do is in a hurry. By questioning something, you could cause delays, and there’s no time for that.
Why ask questions?
To innovate effectively, you need proper information. If you lack information or make incorrect assumptions, you will lose much more time than some early questions would’ve cost you. By asking questions at the start of (and during) the innovation process, you gather invaluable information that you otherwise wouldn’t have found. After all, curiosity is a requirement for gaining knowledge.
Asking questions in 3 steps
To get the most out of your innovation process, it is best to divide asking questions into 3 phases:
The ‘Who-what-where’ phase
It is no coincidence that these are the first type of questions that children come up with. Who-what-where questions are simple questions to ask. The biggest advantage of these simple questions? There is often only one correct answer. So they are easy to answer and immediately provide you with the basic information you need to move forward. In this article, you will find more tips about asking (these) simple questions.
The ‘Why’ phase
It gets a bit more complicated there. With why-questions, you’re trying to uncover the root cause of your problem. Why-questions may seem simple but can be tough to answer. In addition, the first answer to a why-question is often just the first step in uncovering the true cause. You will have to dig deeper to find out. Fortunately, asking why-questions can easily be repeated until you strike gold. Use the 5 Whys technique to quickly uncover the root cause of your situation.
The ‘How might we’ phase
In an innovation process, you don’t just ask questions to get straight answers. You ask questions to find a direction, shape your process and ultimately work towards a new product, service or solution. After uncovering the core of your problem and the key information you need to solve it, it’s time to generate ideas. In order to come up with proper solutions, you’ll need to define a clear focus question. A question that inspires and that leads to ideas. In this article, you can read all about creating a sharp and clear focus question
When you have gone through all these phases, you should have the right information to come up with creative ideas. Can you use some help with that? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will gladly help you out.
Oh, and the answer to the question about the crying birds? After a bit of googling I came across this Dutch article from KIJK with the sobering answer: no. Crying (caused by emotion) is the only thing in which people distinguish themselves from animals. Good to know if you want to impress someone someday.